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Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.




A true story of a personal friend who was also in the completely wrong place at the right time to save others from a killer in the wind:


Ploy                 by Jules A. Staats

          It was three o'clock in the morning as the black and white sheriff’s vehicle patrolled the streets less than a mile from the Los Angeles city limits.  It was damp and cold.  Convection fog was appearing out of nowhere, as the air cooled, releasing visible moisture.  The streets, stretching for miles under cold blue Mercury Vapor street lights, grew quiet on this Wednesday, somewhere in the Unincorporated County area known as West Hollywood, and is part of the Los Angeles area.  It was 1958 and (Howard and Bill) were working out of the local Sheriff's station on the graveyard shift.  It had turned out to be a very uneventful night, and the crew was reacting to the monotony by becoming nervous and restless.

          The two Deputy Sheriffs felt as if they had parked their radio car at most all of the donut shops that night.  They also felt like they had consumed all the coffee they could possibly bear.  They had checked all the alleys, looked for any crime or traffic violation all night.  They had found nothing.  It was as if they were the only humans on the planet.  The police radio was completely silent which also adding to this unreal illusion.

          Howard muttered, that the log sheet was composed of no police work at all, just patrol checks.  He grumbled to his partner Bill that tonight's log might be disapproved by the Watch Sergeant, unless some meaningful entries were written down.  Other than just plain lying, Howard suggested to Bill, the driver of the patrol car, that they now try to locate a decent vehicle traffic stop.  Problem was there were almost no cars driving on the road at this time of the night.

          For a half hour, the team searched for a good traffic violation.  There were absolutely no traffic violators to be found.  The night continued to slowly drag on.  Finally, just after 3:30 AM with the fog reducing visibility to a half block, Howard spotted a car, turning on to Santa Rosa Boulevard, from a side street.  Bill checked over the car as it passed by them, going the other way.  There was something wrong with this vehicle albeit a minor issue.  Yes, one of the vehicle’s tail lights was burned out.  It was really a skimpy thing to enforce, but it would have to do.  He found out that his partner had not even observed the mechanical violation of a missing taillight. 

          Bill cleared his throat, "Howard!"

          "What is it?"

          Bill's voice was clearer now, as he turned the car around in a tight U turn, "I got you a log entry, guy."

          Howard looked at the car in front of him.  "What am I looking for, Bill?"

          "Burned out tail light, Howard.  Big time Felony violation."

          Bill's kidding was not working.  Howard did not feel himself even smile.  Howard replied with disgust, "Whoop-de-doo!  Is this the best you can find, with your keen, highly trained police mind?  I'm going back to sleep, and good night."

          Howard closed his eyes, crossed his arms, and pretended to be immediately asleep.  He was peeking out one eye at the car ahead, though.  He felt that there was something wrong about that vehicle but only could see a tail light out.

          Howard was experiencing that his body felt stiff and sluggish, as his partner turned on the red lights.  The hours of sitting in the patrol car and the damp weather was negatively affecting him.  The car heater had done little to keep the crew warm due to the practice of the County Shops removing the radiator thermostat to prevent overheating of the engine.  As a result the heater only produced slightly warm air.

The glow of the two red sealed beams, hanging on a triangular plate over the windshield, made the glass glow an eerie crimson.  Howard felt something within him that caused him to now be completely awake and alert. 

The driver of the car with the one tail light pulled over quickly, and stopped.  The occupant of the car then turned off his headlights blacking the vehicle completely out. Following normal procedure, Howard dragged the beam of the right patrol car spotlight into the rear window of the stopped vehicle.  Bill positioned his spotlight to strike the left side view mirror to further their tactical advantage in this traffic stop.  The interior of the suspect car was now brightly illuminated.  From their viewpoint, there was only one adult male person in the car.

          Bill quickly got out of the driver’s seat of the patrol car, and walked up to the area behind the driver of the suspect car.  He was going to stop behind the shoulder of the driver for very valid reasons of training procedures and officer safety.  But, because he thought he saw something unusual in the driver's lap.  Bill then took an added step.  Bill soon found out that the extra foot or so forward was a terrible mistake.

          That extra step put Bill face to face with the driver.  Bill felt his body turn to ice as he observed what was in the man's lap.  Bill was now staring down a gun barrel of the large .45 caliber 1911 military automatic pistol in the driver's hands.  The gun was aimed through the open window, at Bill's face.

          Bill thought he could smell blood in his nose as he contemplated his immediate death was now at the whim of this gunman.  A routine traffic stop for a lousy tail light out was going to signal the end of his life on earth.

          The driver appeared very tense as he started talking to the deputy.

          "O.K. Deputy, don't move, or I will kill you now, just like a dog."  As the driver moved the pistol slightly he could see that the hammer was cocked and a finger was on the hair trigger.  The gun could just fire due to the accidental touch of that trigger finger.  The driver continued, "I just shot my wife, probably killed her.  No, I'm sure of it.  Now, I'm getting out of town and I want you to get me out of here."  The driver was dead serious, and his hand held the big gun rock steady. 

          "I need your cop car.  Get your partner over here, and no tricks, unless you want to die from a .45 slug in your face!"

          Bill's voice was very soft with an understandable nervous shake, when he replied.  "O.K. pal, I'll do what you say, just don't shoot me.  I have three children and a wife at home."

          Bill quickly cleared his throat, calling out, “Sam; it’s alright, I know this guy.  He is a good friend of mine.   Hey, come over her and meet him."

          The driver turned more to his left, looking behind Bill, in anticipation of the other deputy's arrival but the other deputy was not there.

          A loud thud and cracking sound, as the passenger window broke.

          That was the sound of a six inch gun barrel striking hard against the right window.  The window shattered in a pattern like a spider's web, held in place by the plastic laminate used in side safety windows in those days. 

          The astonished driver reacted quickly by firing the large automatic pistol point blank at the face of Bill.  But Bill's face was no longer there.  He had fully dropped flat to the pavement, and the bullet struck a concrete street light pole across the street with a loud thud--the powerful solid point projectile tearing a large chunk out of it.

          The driver who also was now an attempt murder suspect against a police officer was confused and disorientated.  He had no idea where the two deputy sheriffs were.  Panic set in and he just wanted to flee from this situation in any way possible.  This all happened in seconds as he threw open the driver's door, trying to get away from these cops, who were now a real and deadly threat to him.  The driver put a footprint on the back of the deputy's green uniform jacket as Bill had just thrown himself to the pavement.

          The driver stumbled a few steps, due to stepping on the back of the deputy.  The man started to run, then spun around, trying to line up some parting fatal shots against the two Deputy Sheriffs.  The gun had been fully loaded with seven rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber.  With one round fired he still had a lot of chances to kill these two law enforcement officers. 

          Howard had heard the gunshot, then observed the suspect’s car door open, and had the fleeing felony suspect in his vision.  He carefully placed the long, six inch barrel of his service revolver on his free hand, which was steady against the roof of the patrol car.  Howard fired once, single action, from his Smith and Wesson revolver a mere split second before the suspect did.  The hot lead of the deputy’s bullet spun through the air, the aim was true as the solid lead projectile tore through the suspect's heart.  The suspect’s return fire was in the air.  The criminal’s bullets were never recovered.

          The suspect fell to the pavement, mortally wounded and he died in seconds.  The man who had just killed his wife would not stand trial in a court of law in front of society.  Further this “chance” observation of the killer and the way it ended ensured that no other civilian or police officer would become a tragic victim of this killer in the wind.

          Bill had used a previously agreed on gesture or words to warn of an immediate deadly situation.  Police Officers are always working out many and different neat schemes to warn each other of danger without tipping off a suspect.  A thug could never learn them all.  In fact, this is an excellent example of, why the attempted assault of a police officer is a deadly, losing gamble.

          A personnel investigation of the incident disclosed that this was a good shooting.

Author’s note:

I personally knew “Howard” and he felt a personal inner urgency to also confront a vehicle that had nothing wrong with it except for one missing tail light.  He had no idea that this was an extremely high risk stop and that they could have been killed.  However if the murder suspect had not been stopped, other innocent persons could have killed by this man.  After the fact, Howard knew that this was the actual reason that he pinned a badge on for, and he also had a strong opinion where the silent suggestion came from. Yes he was also in the absolutely wrong place at the right time to save the lives of others.


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